From New International, Vol.4 No.10, October 1938, pp.312, 318-319.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
THE QUESTION of ends and means, raised in The New International holds especial interest for a detached Marxist observer in a decaying Imperialist country where, because of haphazard and untheorised development, means are assumed to be totally irrelevant to ends. This lack of theorising, of course, is in turn due to the ease with which the rising system developed in a clear field so that no thought of the next step was really necessary. It may be – probably is – different in the New World, but in Britain discussion of ends and means never arises because the quotation of the latter in “justification” of the former is never considered. They are in water tight compartments, totally unrelated, and an occasional puerile declaration that “the end justifies the means” by some unguarded Fascist or Stalinist who has forgotten the Moscow Radio Centre wave length is dismissed as “Machiavelianism”. That is all that need be said to damn a thing eternally in the country of the smug John Bull who thinks “perfide Albion” is playful kidding by the Continentals, sacks kings and remains a royalist, and denounces aerial terrorism while blowing Arabs and Indians sky high in the sacred cause of civilisation.
Typically, the only revolt against this “segregation” attitude is the Huxley type of sterile intellectualism. To the Christian Pacifist (an expected form of revolt in a rotting, tyrannous Imperialism) means completely dominate ends and it becomes, in the proposition’s logical conclusion, a question of the means justifying the end.
Trotsky is to be particularly congratulated on opening the question as it has been to a great extent evaded (not ignored as in Britain) by Marxists. As an illustration of this evasion one may recall Lenin’s “Prevaricate gentlemen – but within reason!” We know that was ironic but it signifies an attitude of mind. As a trail blazer Trotsky had naturally to leave certain gaps in his roadway and one might have hoped that Dewey would have helped to fill those up – or at least pour the tar between the stones. Actually all he succeeded in doing was to hang out an occasional “Danger: road under repair” sign and say the road was as bad as the previous jungle because the metal was broken with a Marxist hammer. With his outlook he could not avoid dealing critically with the whole structure of Marxist philosophy and inevitably, therefore, not only put the cart in front of the horse – but forgot the load.
It would seem axiomatic that a discussion of ends and means must have for those discussing it a common basic premise. To the Roman Catholic Church of the Inquisition the one essential for the salvation of mankind including the heretics was the triumph of the holy church. Therefore if the burning of several thousand heretics became necessary it had to be done. The salvation of the world through the triumph of the Mother Church was the overriding end.
For the Fascist there must be no interference with the profitable functioning of big business. There must be no political, industrial, economic, or religious freedom – these are bad. The state must, therefore, be purified of tainted elements for the universal (capitalist) good. Shooting and murder follow automatically.
For Capitalism beyond the incipient stage and before the necessity for naked Fascism becomes overwhelmingly pressing the question does not arise. There is no conscious end. It is simply the inexorable working out of a process so far in operation that those subscribing to the ruling morality can do nothing but submit blindly. Incipient capitalism is, of course, amoral for the “successful”. Each striving for his own individual good benefited the community, said Adam Smith, and the strivers, with this high ideal and the red, white and blue before them, recked nothing of a little matter of swindling or child murder in the factories when it was all for the benefit of mankind.
The question of relationship of means and ends cannot arise for a man without a philosophy. Therefore any attempt to argue with anyone from outside his philosophy is pointless. Means and ends for the Marxist must essentially be means and ends in Marxism. Otherwise one simply draws metaphysical circles and would be as well engaged discussing original sin or whether one can “change human nature” without troubling first to define “sin” or for what “human nature” is to be changed.
Marxists do not discuss means and ends because they do not wish to use “wicked” means which might sin their lily white souls or stain their pristine virtue. We are not interested in “justifying” means in the abstract. We wish to justify means according to their efficacy. We do not want to know if assassination and terrorism are “bad” or “good”: we want to know if they will have bad or good effects on our battle. Will the means help in the long run towards, as Trotsky says, “increasing the power of man over nature and the abolition of the power of man over man”?
It is ironic – or perhaps merely comforting – that Dewey’s only contribution towards the Marxists’ problem is when he uses the dialectic whose greatest historic example – the class struggle – he apparently denies. He takes the “idea of the end in view”, opposes to it the means used towards that end, and shows how something entirely different may come about. From this he seems to draw the conclusion that we must therefore be seers and attempt nothing unless we are sure that the result will be such that it will justify the means we have used in an attempt to arrive at something totally different. Marxists will eagerly agree that the means used towards the “idea of an end” often bring about an entirely different “end”: this end in turn has specified in history a new “idea of an end” conditioning new means. I seem to recollect somewhere in Marxist theory an explanation of the negation of the negation.
For the doubters we can take an example at random. The workers and peasants of feudal France wished freedom from the tyranny of the estates, universal freedom. (I am dealing, of course, with conscious wishes – not with the drive towards them coming from heavy taxation, low wages, desire for land, etc.) To do this they made their revolution with the bourgeoisie who also wanted “freedom”. The means were the National Assembly, revolt, and liquidation of the aristocracy. The result was – Bonaparte and the restoration. There had been a change, however, and the fight was now against class – not estate – political tyranny and this went on, sometimes by old methods, sometimes by new, until the Paris Commune which hardly produced the desired end. From it Karl Marx and Engels “had to concretise another end (which was, of course, only the means towards the further end as defined above by Trotsky and understood by Marx and Engels). This was workers’ control over the state which was to be achieved by the workers building their own state and smashing the bourgeois form of government completely. Taking it even further the power of the proletariat over other sections of the community was to be negated into the “abolition of the power of man over man”.
Continuing, Dewey criticises Trotsky for declaring that “the end flows from the class struggle” and makes the amazing claim that the interdependence of means and ends “has thus disappeared”. Thus, he states, “means are ‘deduced’ from an independent source, an alleged law of history (the class struggle – R.E.S.) which is the law of social development” (His italics).
It is not the means which are “deduced” but, on the contrary, the end. For Marxists the historical movement has, so far as the dialectic will take us at the moment, one end which is, for us, the finish – the free classless society. Beyond that we cannot see at the moment and can only guess what end it will in turn become the means to. In detail the means are the product, or are deduced from, the interplay of historic forces – but this by no means denies the interplay of ends and means. The class struggle, while being a broad means, is a historic force dictating the detailed means; the various methods – strikes, rebellion, terrorism, “Socialism in one country” – by which the class struggle is carried on are the means in microcosm. Only Marxists can appreciate the interplay of forces which is constantly changing relationships. As the dialectic puts it – nothing is, everything is becoming and, as Trotsky says, “dialectical materialism knows no dualism between means and end”. Dewey’s “independent sources” show the choice of several means which may have the desired effect, – the end, already “deduced”. The end conditions the means: historic development defines them.
The basis of Dewey’s error seems to lie in his assumption that the class struggle is the Marxists’ “choice” for their end. Here we have illustrated how hopeless it is for those not in agreement on their philosophy to discuss means and ends as applied in their opponents’ philosophy.
We wish “the increasing of the power of man over nature and the abolition of the power of man over man.” Watching the historical process we see that the means to that end is the classless society. The means is conditioned by the end. The end of the classless society dictates not so much that we “choose” the class struggle as a means as that the class struggle is the means conditioned by the end. The methods of conducting the class struggle are the means defined by experience and revolutionary thought. We cannot change that. The process is such that we must either make for “the increasing of the power of man over nature and the abolition of the power of man over man” or lift our hands from the guiding of history and let the world smash back into barbarism. There is a conflict in society which can only be resolved in one fashion if we wish to progress beyond our present level of culture and civilisation. The class struggle is a means only in so far as it is a dynamic of history.
Experience and revolutionary thought define the methods of conducting the class struggle. Now those methods deserve consideration not because, as Dewey says, “orthodox Marxism shares ... the belief that human ends are interwoven into the very texture and structure of existence” but because “orthodox” Marxism believes – the exact opposite! Feudal lords and peasants, merchant guilds and rising industrialists, capitalists and monopoly capitalists, imperialism and proletariat – all those, with their societies, cultures, and modes of living, their “very texture and structure of existence” have been woven into the historic process through which the “human end” is determined. All those have taken part unconsciously, semi-consciously, and consciously, each with his own small part of the end in view, in the drive towards “increasing the power of man over nature and the abolition of the power of man over man”.
Raibeart E. SCOULLER
Last updated on 6.8.2006